The Capital: “Annapolis City Council to hold public hearing on Forest Conservation Law”

Capital Gazette: July 10, 2016

By: Chase Cook, Capital Gazette reporter

Get ready for a slew of public hearings in Annapolis on Monday.

The City Council returns from the Fourth of July holiday to hold public hearings on annexed properties, legislation to protect forests and an attempt to increase how often the city requires traffic analysis for developers. The council meets at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 160 Duke of Gloucester St.

The council also will vote on several pieces of legislation, which include measures codifying the ability to remove board and commission members, approving a comprehensive economic review of the city’s maritime zones, and requiring a city public safety representative to attend the funeral of a retired or active-duty city public safety officer.

Monday’s agenda will be a full one as the council prepares for its August break.

Here’s a closer look at the issues up for discussion:

Forest Conservation Act

This legislation aims to establish the city’s own Forest Conservation Law. This would allow the city to protect forests while providing a means for developers to build on city land.

Some of the most significant changes would include requiring public meetings on affected forests and allowing the city’s Planning Commission to consider conservation plans when making decisions on developments. These plans are submitted by developers to show the forests impacted by their projects.

But to former Dept. of Neighborhood and Environments employee Rob Savidge, the bill isn’t perfect. There are still major concerns with where appeals are held and no stay requirement during appeals, meaning forests can be cleared while opposition to the cuts are raised.

“What I feel comfortable saying is that this ordinance is a step forward, but not enough of one,” Savidge said. “There are a number of good provisions in the ordinance that the drafters should be proud of, but there are also a number that are serious threats to our forests and to public transparency.”

Currently the city adopts the state’s Forest Conservation Law, meaning it follows the minimum requirements according to state law. City officials and aldermembers have sought a city-specific law to increase city protection of forests and to take into consideration the city’s board and commissions as part of the law.

This new legislation is a joint effort by Alderman Jared Littmann, D-Ward 5; Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4; Alderman Joe Budge, D-Ward 1; Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8; and Mayor Mike Pantelides.

As drafted, the legislation would require developers to replant a quarter-acre for every acre of trees removed or two acres for every acre removed, depending on the area and amount of trees removed. In lieu of that replanting, developer can pay money into a Forest Conservation Fund.

An amendment submitted by Littmann would require any replanting to be a one-to-one match, although that amendment may not get the traction needed. Pantelides has said he won’t support the amendment as there are concerns the Maryland Department of Natural Resources wouldn’t certify the city’s law if the replanting requirement was stricter than state law.

Annexation bills

Several public hearings will be held on annexations bills to re-examine those properties over concerns they aren’t meeting city code.

The bills, introduced on June 13, state that several property agreements are in violation of city code because those properties haven’t been developed and connected to the city’s utilities and the agreements have elapsed or are close to nearing the 10-year deadline. These include the Katherine, Rogers, Brown, Bowen and Annapolis Neck Road properties.

Crystal Spring developers have said the proposed legislation is a targeted move to delay the controversial $200 million project, which has been called the biggest development in Annapolis history.

These public hearings could be contentious as the developers have pushed back at the city. Meanwhile, opponents of the project don’t feel the city is going far enough in re-examining the agreements. If the legislation is approved, it would mean the annexation agreement would go back to the Planning Commission, where it would likely be revised or renewed.

Traffic analysis

City code requires traffic analysis when an incoming development adds 400 or more additional trips to nearby roads. This legislation would reduce that number from 400 to 250. This bill should interest residents who have railed against the city for traffic problems along Forest Drive and other roads.

The intent is to require more frequent traffic studies, said Littmann, one of the bill’s sponsors. Smaller developments will need to do more to improve their traffic impact on the city.

“There are a lot of smaller projects in the city that don’t need to do the traffic study; as a result they don’t end up contributing to the traffic improvements,” he said.

Bills up for vote

The council will vote on legislation to approve a sector study for the city’s maritime zones.

Approval of the legislation will give the city’s Department of Planning and Zoning authority to carry out the study to assess the zones.

“The goal is to conduct a comprehensive economic and zoning review of all maritime zones that will provide data and recommendations that will enhance the health of the Annapolis maritime industry,” Director Pete Gutwald wrote in a January letter to the city Planning Commission.

Annapolis has made its maritime industry a focus the last few years as it looks for new ways to attract businesses while maintaining the city’s status as a historic boating venue.

In other business, the council will vote on a bill to fix the city’s civil penalty fines to bring the city code in line with state code. Currently, the city’s maximum fine is $1,000. But state code allows for fines up to $2,000 for liquor board violations while allowing smaller fines of $500 for zoning violations.

This fixes any disparity between the city and state code and prevents the city from assessing fines outside of state law.

The council also will vote on a bill finalizing the authority to remove members of the city’s boards and commissions. Another bill will require a city public safety official to attend the funeral of a retired or active-duty city public safety officer.

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